Territory updates home heating grant

Yukon's wealthier seniors will no longer be eligible for government hand-outs to help pay their winter fuel bills.

Yukon’s wealthier seniors will no longer be eligible for government hand-outs to help pay their winter fuel bills.

The Yukon government is updating its Pioneer Utility Grant so that money is handed out on a sliding scale, rather than simply being guaranteed for people 65 or older.

The new program will also offer some extra money for seniors living outside of Whitehorse.

The grant pays Yukon seniors to help cover the cost of heating owned or rented homes.

It was introduced in 1978 at a rate of $300 a year. Now seniors receive about $1,000. It is adjusted every year based on inflation.

This year, the maximum rate payable within Whitehorse is $1,049. In rural Yukon the maximum rate is $1,132.

The money will be awarded based on income. Seniors who make less than $40,000 and couples with an income of less than $56,000 will receive the entire grant.

Individuals making more than $117,000 and couples with incomes of more than $165,000 combined will no longer be eligible.

Anyone in the middle will receive only part of the money.

Social Services Minister Mike Nixon said the changes are not about saving cash. Instead it’s about making sure the program remains sustainable.

Someone making more than the maximum “should be able to pay their utilities fairly comfortably over the course of a year,” he said.

“Whereas a senior that’s making $40,000 might have more struggles. So we felt that sliding scale in between those two numbers was helpful and as people make more money they can pay their utilities more comfortably.”

Each year the government budgets about $2 million for the program.

Since there never was income testing before, it’s difficult to say exactly how many people will no longer qualify for the grant, Nixon said.

The cutoff was set based on a estimate of the top 20 per cent of senior couples’ income, Nixon said.

The little bit extra for rural Yukoners – about eight per cent – is to cover costs that can come with living outside of Whitehorse, “whether it be pelts or wood or fuel oil, propane, that the costs for heating are a little bit higher for the communities in rural Yukon,” he said.

The last major change is that Yukoners can now apply for the grant in July rather than having to wait until October.

“Over the last number of years we’ve talked to people who have missed the deadline. It just gives people a little bit more time to put their application in,” Nixon said.

Seniors still need to have lived in the Yukon for at least 12 months before applying the first time. After that there’s a yearly requirement of 183 days residing in Yukon, three months of which must be in the winter.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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